How Are Your Telephone Manners?
“Next to family affection, health, and the love of work, does anything contribute so much to the pleasantness of life, restoring and raising our self-esteem, as the traffic in kind speeches?”
IN ASKING that question, the late American author and educator Lucy Elliot Keeler was placing high value on the personal pleasure and fulfillment that can be derived from an interchange of oral communication, an ability lovingly given man at the time of his creation.—Exodus 4:11, 12.
Contributing greatly to the increase in the flow of human speech over the past 12 decades has been Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. Today, for billions of earth’s inhabitants, the telephone, whether used for business or pleasure, provides a vital link between humans.
The Telephone and You
To what degree does telephone use enhance the quality of your life? Would you not agree that your answer to that question depends more on the people involved than on the instrument itself? Indeed, it is timely that we ask the question, How are your telephone manners?
Telephone manners cover such areas as mental attitude, speech quality, and listening ability. Pertinent, too, would be the mechanics of using a telephone and ways of dealing with nuisance calls.
Thoughtful Consideration of Others
As is true in all human interchange, good telephone manners stem from fellow feeling. The apostle Paul wrote: “Look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own.”—Philippians 2:4, The New English Bible.
When asked the question, “What have you found to be the most common examples of poor telephone manners?,” an experienced telephone switchboard operator replied that high on her list was “the caller who says, ‘Mary here’ (How many Marys do you know?) or, worse still, ‘Me here,’ or ‘Guess who this is.’” Such thoughtless, perhaps well-meaning, approaches can cause embarrassment and impatience. The operator continued: “Why not get the call off to a happy start by clearly identifying yourself and additionally, out of consideration for the one called, asking if it is a convenient time to talk?”
Remember, although your facial expression cannot be seen, your attitude will be evident. How so? Through your tone of voice. Impatience, boredom, anger, indifference, sincerity, cheerfulness, helpfulness, and warmth—all are revealed. True, annoyance can be a natural reaction when one is interrupted. In the interest of good manners, in this situation try to pause and inject a “smile” into your voice before answering. It is possible to disagree without using a disagreeable tone.
A combination of thoughtful consideration and a pleasing tone of voice can make for sayings that are “good for building up as the need may be” and the imparting of “what is favorable to the hearers.”—Ephesians 4:29.
Yes, the kind of speech we use is important. Do you agree with and observe the following rules? Speak naturally, clearly, and distinctly. Don’t mumble. Don’t shout—even on a long-distance call. Don’t slur your words. Avoid slovenly speech that telescopes or skips syllables; also avoid “word whiskers” and regressions, which can be disconcerting and cause irritation. Shun the use of a dull monotone. Proper sense stress and modulation make speech meaningful, colorful, and refreshing. Keep in mind, too, that eating while engaged in a telephone conversation doesn’t enhance speech quality or reflect good manners.
Word choice is also worthy of consideration. Discernment is called for. Use plain, simple words that are readily understood. Words have connotations. They can be kind or cruel, soothing or harsh, encouraging or disheartening. Furthermore, one can be witty without being abrasive, candid without being blunt or rude, and tactful without being evasive. Courteous expressions like “please” and “thank you” are always welcome. Words that are kind, considerate, and tasteful are what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.”—Colossians 4:6.
Be a Good Listener
There is the story of a young man who asked his father to tell him the secret of being a good conversationalist. “Listen, my son,” was the reply. “I am listening,” said the youth. “Tell me more.” “There’s no more to tell,” replied the father. Indeed, being an interested, sympathetic listener is a vital ingredient in the recipe for good telephone manners.
Failure to observe a simple rule can result in your being viewed as a telephone bore. What is it? Don’t monopolize the conversation. Don’t get bogged down, for example, in an unending, word-for-word account of some trivial exchange you were involved in or a long-winded personal history of minor aches and pains. Once again, we have an applicable, concise Bible rule, this time from the disciple James. “Be quick to listen but slow to speak.”—James 1:19, Jerusalem Bible.
Let us now address two final questions that come within the context of telephone manners. What can be said of the mechanics of telephone use? Are there some suggested guidelines in handling unwelcome calls?
While on the telephone, have you ever found the voice at the other end of the line intermittently fading into the distance? This should remind you to speak into the mouthpiece, keeping it about an inch [2 cm] from your lips. In addition, it is courteous to control background noise. When you make a call, dial carefully to avoid getting a wrong number; and when you conclude your call, place the receiver into its cradle gently.
Have you been a victim of nuisance calls? Sadly, such appear to be on the increase. Indecent, suggestive, or obscene language merits only one response—termination of the call. (Compare Ephesians 5:3, 4.) The same would be true when a caller refuses to identify himself. Should you have reason to be suspicious of a call, the publication How to Write and Speak Better recommends that you “do not answer if a strange voice asks, ‘Who is speaking?’” and that you don’t discuss your plans with a stranger.
How good it is to know that in the final analysis, the exercise of good telephone manners does not require a long list of rules or regulations! As in all dealings among people, pleasant and rewarding relationships come from application of what is commonly called the Golden Rule. Said Jesus Christ: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) For the Christian, there is also the desire to please the One who endowed man with the gift of speech. Prayed the psalmist: “Let the sayings of my mouth and the meditation of my heart become pleasurable before you, O Jehovah my Rock and my Redeemer.”—Psalm 19:14.